Every now and then you come across something analogue—an object, a gift, a toy—that is just so inherently fun to use and interesting to play with that it opens up an entirely new way of interacting with the world. I would guess some of you reading this are thinking “yep, that’s my planner” or “that’s fountain pens for me”. These days, the artifact that’s captured my heart is a vintage instant film camera. This particular chonk is a refurbished Polaroid 600 model. The camera feels sturdy in the hands without being heavy, and the geometric shape reminds me so much of both my childhood and of old tech my parents have described to me. “Refurbished” here means old guts, fresh casing: the inside components come from cameras originally made in the 1980s-1990s, while the outer shell is a new plastic molding, designed after various nostalgic themes—in this case, the United States Postal Service.
How do you use it? As a disclaimer, I’m a total novice with analog photography, so there are way more shooting and developing tips to be found through quick internet searches or inside the brains of older adults and/or camera geeks. But the basics are absolutely intuitive. Load the film cartridge in the bottom hatch, flip open the top section, peek through the viewfinder, point and shoot. The photo rolls out of the slot, protected from light exposure by a built-in film shield. Leave that black tongue sticking out. Or you can let it retract, and take the photo out to lay facedown or tucked away in your pocket while it develops. In 10-15 minutes, the photo is fully baked. But if you’re impatient like me, you’ll sneak a peek 3-5 minutes in to witness the vague fields of color, light and shadow before finer details slowly, magically appear. It reminds me a bit of the watercolor painting process I learned in school: starting from large, loose washes and gradually working your way up to the darkest and finest shapes.
A curiosity about the 600 model: there’s no battery compartment or charging outlet. Power comes from a battery inside each film cartridge. When film is loaded and you open the top, a tiny green light and a high-pitched whining sound tells you that the camera is ready to go. It stays on by itself for a little while; plenty of time to compose the shot. I’ve never run into a situation where the battery runs out before I’ve taken all the pictures. This quirk of energy source makes the film expensive, which means you end up choosing the moment and lining up the viewfinder even more carefully for each photo. You’ve only got eight shots. (In the past, film cartridges came with more shots. We know this because the flip number counter on the side of the camera reads “10” when a new pack of film is loaded and “2” when it’s empty. I find this a little evil.)
Comparisons of the various instant film cameras on the market say that Polaroid film is somewhat darker and less colorful and detailed than other brands, but have the most “retro” feel to them. Having gone through about three and a half packs of film since I got this camera, with my fair share of dark and blurry dud shots, I would agree. The film definitely requires a strong light source for successful results. But what incredibly warm and charismatic results they are, with teeming shadows and unexpected blurry spots and faded edges.
Besides the lovely and unpredictable images it produces, I feel a double dose of affection towards this camera for a couple reasons. First, I’m a big fan of the mail system. You may remember that a couple years ago the United States Postal Service was facing severe financial and operational woes (happily, these are very close to being much alleviated by the passage of the Postal Service Reform Act). At the time, trying to find ways to give monetary support, I casually picked up some items from the official store. I was not prepared for the consequences. You buy an airmail-themed hoodie and a couple coffee-themed stamps one time and all of a sudden you’re getting the official USA Philatelic in the mail tempting you with new stamps and postal-themed merch every few months. Normally I detest being marketed to but damn did this ever work. Every time I get the catalog, I think, “I’m good on USPS merch. Surely there’s nothing I’ll want in here.” And every few months, I’m played for a fool. Last July or so, I felt such intense cuteness aggression upon seeing the USPS-themed Polaroid camera in the catalog that I had to use all my willpower not to buy it.
This brings me to reason number two: Emil observed my angst, filed the information away for later, looked up the refurbisher long after the USPS stock sold out, and got it for me as a Christmas gift. But wait, there’s more. Completely unplanned…I also gave him a Polaroid (a newer i-Type model, Keith Haring limited edition) for Christmas. We had no idea until we set our wrapped presents under my family’s tree and, side-eyeing each other, silently observed how similar in size and shape the two boxes (one for the camera and one for the film packs) were. I suppose we’ve been together long enough and have enough similar taste to make this sort of “same brain cell” event inevitable, but it still cracks me up. At least they’re different models.
Anyway, I deeply love this boxy gizmo and the spontaneous beauty of the memories it spits out. It fits so comfortably into my existing journaling and memory-keeping practices, and it possesses that charming combination of functional and sentimental, practical plus mysterious which goes straight to my heart. A friend told me that just after shooting, holding an instant film photo to the underside of your wrist gives the chemicals an extra boost of heat and helps it develop. I’ve yet to try it. But speaking solely from the standpoint of a hopeless romantic—you’re telling me you can press the photo to the place you’d take your pulse in order to coax more life out of it? If that isn’t the essence of “Love for Analogue”, I don’t know what is.
Text and photos by: A.C. Esguerra
Where to find A.C. : instagram @blueludebar
Read other stories by A.C. : Here
Resources and Links:
Info about the Postal Service Reform Act (which vastly benefits every U.S. Citizen as well as USPS workers and has passed both the House and Senate by bipartisan majority).